Breaking down the Giants' DH options for 2020

June 24th, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants didn’t assemble their 2020 roster with the designated hitter in mind, but they’ll have several candidates to fill the role now that a rule change will bring the DH to the National League for the first time this year.

With Major League Baseball announcing the implementation of a 60-game regular season on Tuesday, the Giants will soon turn their attention to figuring out how to maximize their production out of their extra spot in the lineup.

“It might be a way for us to get at-bats for some of the positive stories that emerged in Spring Training,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said last week on Chalk Talk @ Home, the Giants’ streaming show on YouTube. “I think we’re going to stay in-house. I know [manager] Gabe [Kapler] and the staff are excited to have another lineup spot to play with.”

Let’s break down some of the players who could draw at-bats at the DH spot for the Giants this year.

Pence, 37, primarily served as a DH during his All-Star campaign for the Rangers last year, so he should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of its early arrival to the NL. He appeared at DH in 46 of his 69 starts with the Rangers in 2019, batting .297 with a .910 OPS and 18 home runs in an injury-shortened season.

One of the factors that drew the Giants to Pence this offseason was his ability to crush left-handed pitching (1.015 OPS). That skill should play particularly well in the National League West, which is home to southpaws like Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Julio Urías and Alex Wood of the Dodgers, Madison Bumgarner and Robbie Ray of the D-backs, Joey Lucchesi of the Padres and Kyle Freeland of the Rockies.

Dickerson, who was acquired from the Padres last June, emerged as a driving force behind the Giants’ 19-6 surge in July, but his production stalled after he landed on the injured list in August with an oblique strain. The left-handed slugger has battled a myriad of injuries throughout his career, but when he’s healthy, he’s shown that he’s capable of being a force in the middle of the lineup. In 56 games with the Giants in 2019, Dickerson batted .290 with an .880 OPS and six home runs.

Dickerson and Pence were expected to form a platoon in left field this year, but the DH should make it easier for the Giants to manage their workloads and minimize their injury risks.

The Giants hadn’t expected Sandoval to be ready by Opening Day, but the three-month shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic allowed the Panda to complete his rehab from Tommy John surgery. With Evan Longoria slated to draw the majority of starts at third base, Sandoval should reprise his role as a backup corner infielder and key bench bat for the Giants, but he could also end up factoring into the DH mix.

The 33-year-old switch-hitter batted .268 with an .820 OPS and 14 home runs over 108 games last year, though he re-signed with the Giants on a Minor League deal and still needs to be added to the 40-man roster.

Ruf turned heads by going 12-for-28 (.429) with three home runs, five doubles and one triple over 14 Cactus League games this spring, but he didn’t have a clear path to the Opening Day roster with Brandon Belt already at first base. The implementation of the DH could change that, as Ruf was one of the players who was specifically mentioned by Zaidi as a potential option for that spot.

“With some of the performances we were getting in Spring Training, we were wondering how we were going to get at-bats for everybody. This may create opportunity,” Zaidi said. “Take a guy like Darin Ruf, whose primary position is first base, and we obviously have Brandon Belt over there. Maybe this opens up more at-bats for him.”

Ruf, 33, spent the past three seasons playing in South Korea before signing a Minor League deal with the Giants in January. He batted .313 with a .968 OPS and 86 home runs over 404 games with the Samsung Lions of the KBO and could help give the Giants more right-handed thump against lefties this year.

Bart, 23, wasn’t viewed as a candidate for the Opening Day roster in March, as the Giants wanted him to start the season in the Minors and log more reps behind the plate, especially after he missed time with two separate hand fractures in 2019. But with lingering uncertainty surrounding the outlook for the Minor League season this year, the Giants could be inclined to add Bart to their roster and allow him to continue his development under the tutelage of Buster Posey and the rest of the club’s coaching staff.

Before he was reassigned to Minor League camp in March, Bart made an impression by going 7-for-16 (.438) with two home runs over nine Cactus League games with the Giants.